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Originally published Monday, August 11, 2014 at 12:47 PM

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You could pay 8 times more for flight than seatmate

New study finds wide variation in airfares on the same flight, in the same cabin section.


Los Angeles Times

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On a recent vacation trip to Canada, Gina Kano couldn’t help thinking that she probably paid more for her ticket than other passengers on the plane.

“And there is no way to know why,” the marketing executive from Los Angeles said. “Is it just luck? When there is no logical reason, it’s very annoying.”

A new study has confirmed what Kano and many airline travelers have long suspected: On any given flight, passengers can pay twice as much as others in the same cabin section, and even as much as eight times more.

The study, based on millions of airfares analyzed by the travel-planning site Hopper.com, looked a several domestic flights taken in early May, including a United Airlines flight from Los Angeles International Airport to Las Vegas. On that flight, one-way fares ranged from less than $200 to more than $1,600 for coach seats.

The study also found that some airlines have a greater mix of prices than others. To gauge the disparity, Hopper calculated the percentage of fares that varied from the base fare on that flight.

Fares varied the least on Spirit Airlines (5 percent) and Virgin America (15 percent), while larger carriers such as United Airlines had 18 percent variability, according to the study.

The prices seem to vary less on flights to popular vacation destinations, such as Hawaii, because leisure travelers are more sensitive to price and are quick to cancel a trip if airfares are too high, said Patrick Surry, Hopper’s chief data scientist.

Meanwhile, flights to popular business destinations such as Washington, D.C., or Chicago have greater price variability because business travelers must make those trips regardless of price, he said.

But Surry said further studies are needed to determine why prices vary so much between flights and airlines.

“This is something we’ll be digging into in more detail,” he said.



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